Elgar at the QEH

The Philharmonia Orchestra under conductor Andrew Davis is running a season of concerts showcasing all the major works by Sir Edward Elgar. Yesterday evening's concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall opened with the early Serenade for Strings and continued with the Violin Concerto. This is in the top handful of all violin concertos, and certainly the greatest of the British ones: lyrical, sweeping and romantic. The soloist was James Ehnes, who navigated the works considerable difficulties very well: in particular the articulation of the fast runs was better than one all too often hears.

Digression: though not in the same league as the Elgar there are a number of British violin concertos which, though they have been recorded, are rarely if never played live and deserve to be better known: in particular those by George Dyson, Hamilton Harty, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Arthur Somervell.

The second part of the concert consisted of the Second Symphony. It used to be thought that this work represented an elegy for the passing of the Edwardian era (it was premiered in 1911, the year after the death of Edward VII), and though nowadays it is generally recognized as having strong autobiographical inspirations its combination of elegiac sadness and forceful pomp is very applicable to our perceptions of that period.

Of course we see the early years of the 20th century very largely through the eyes of historical films, which romanticize what, though a settled and peaceful period, was also class-ridden and as affected by working-class poverty as the Victorian era. we see it now as a charming piece of history: move past the First World War to the beginning of the 1920s and we are already in what is recognizably the modern world, even in its early incarnation without the technology which has become so familiar.

The symphony was splendidly played: I have a very good recording of it on CD but there is really no substitute for hearing it performed live.

Next month the Royal Festival Hall reopens: the orchestras will be glad to get back into a full-sized hall. Before the concert started a member of the orchestra's staff made an announcement encouraging people to come to the opening few concerts, couched in terms which suggested that they hadn't anything like filled the hall. Perhaps the inflated prices for the first few concerts have something to do with that.

Posted: Fri - May 18, 2007 at 09:12 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM